Zion National Park

08/19/2022 | All Pictures and Article By Chubby Squirrel

 America's wild, wild West boasts some of the nation's most grandiose and breathtaking natural wonders. Zion, one of Utah's big five national parks, is certainly no exception. "Zion", ancient hebrew for "sanctuary or refuge" (myutahparks.com), offers just that for those who wish to take a break from the monotony of their daily routines. My parents and I flew to this oasis in the middle of April, only three days after returning (burnt to a crisp) from the Everglades in Florida. Our plan was a road trip around the American Southwest, starting from Las Vegas, Nevada, and ending in Phoenix, Arizona. Along the way, we would visit various parks such as Zion, Grand Canyon, and Petrified Forest, as well as other noteworthy destinations including Glen Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

 The itinerary was immaculate, with all hotels booked beforehand and a reservation for a low-priced (but comfortable) car to get us around the vast desert that encompasses the whole region. Even so, fortune seemed not to favor us. We arrived at the Las Vegas Airport and let loose a cry of celebration; we had made it without notable delays or anything unordinary occuring. Happily, my parents and I waltzed to the car rental facility, where it promptly was revealed to us that we forgot to confirm our rental and therefore had no car. Great news to start out a road trip, to be sure. There was nothing we could do (besides perhaps walking a few hundred miles), so we had to rent a car on the spot, taking up much of our time and money.

 Well, at least we had a car. The first stop was Zion National Park, also the subject of this article. Driving out of the inner city, some of the roads looked familiar, and brought to my mind recollections of our last visit to Las Vegas four years ago, in the spring of 2018. This time, instead of staying in the land of "what happens here stays here", we promptly left the city and the state behind, as we neared Utah. On the first night, we stayed in Hurricane, Utah. I had imagined that the desert would be hot, with temperatures consistently remaning above 90 fahrenheit. I was wrong; immediately following the setting sun came continual gusts of chilly wind. I could have used a sweater just then.

 The following morning, we set off on a half-hour car ride to the land of peace and quiet (or at least it's peaceful when it's not packed with tourists, I'm sure), braving the astoundingly low temperatures in nothing but T-shirts, shorts, and thin hoodies. I could tell that we were nearing the park as I saw looming rock formations, standing like sentinels over the rugged, almost martian terrain. The desolate landscape was in stark contast to the lush green mountains of the East Coast, and the openess of it all emanated a most soothing and envigorating effect.

 After miraculously finding a parking space, we toured the visitor center, whereupon I purchased a vinyl bighorn sheep sticker. Reflecting on it later, I realized that I never actually saw a bighorn sheep at the park, nor any other animal of particular interest, although my mother swears she saw a mountain lion. Zion has a commendable shuttle system with minimal (or no) wait time, which is good news considering there is no other way to travel the road in the park besides walking or biking. Private motor vehicles aren't allowed.

 Our first shuttle stop was the Temple of Sinawava, which is named after "the coyote spirit of the Paiute Nation", according to a quick google search. It features a paved and well-traveled trail that takes you to the banks of the (chilly) Virgin River, bordered on both sides by massive canyon walls. People are allowed to hike/wade down the river if they pay for proper gear at the visitor center (or so I believe), but flash floods are a real problem which must be kept in mind at all times.

 The sun finally made an appearance after we left the canyon, to our relief. The canyon walls had been blocking all sunlight from reaching us, but the originally welcome sun soon became very much unwelcome when we started sweating profusely. Seriously, though, if you visit Zion National Park in the morning, I suggest you bring something warm to wear, and then prepare to take it off around midday, when you start to feel the heat. Our next stop was Big Bend, an outlook upon which one can marvel at the gargantuan rust-orange rock formations, largely devoid of any vegetation. You can see the layers of rocks, and imagine just how these formations came to be. The aspect I find most singular about the park is that it's in the middle of a desert, yet contains a lush, verdant valley, filled with all sorts of flora and fauna, watered by a rushing river, and at the same time, very much contrasted by the bare stone walls common to the American Southwest that rise up around the whole thing. Here, at Big Bend, you get to see it all.

 Of course, I couldn't come to Zion National Park and not hike. But I also didn't want to exhaust myself in the hazardous desert heat, so I settled for the Emerald Pools Trail, a 3 mile round-trip path that took you to three pools of water at different levels of the mountain. It's an uphill climb all the way to the top, but then descending is a breeze. There were many people on the trail (after all, Zion is one of the most visited national parks), so I recommend going a bit earlier if possible to avoid the crowd. The sights on a higher elevation were different than those previously seen. There were different kinds of trees, a whole forest, really, as well as a waterfall and the things that everyone came to see: emerald-green pools of water. At the summit of the trail was the upper pool, creatively named for being the highest of all three pools. Here, there are many places to sit and have a rest and take in the roaring waterfall that feeds the pool.

 On the second (and last) morning of our stay at Zion, my parents and I found a trail near the parking lot adjacent to the visitor center, which meandered up the side of one of the huge rock formations, with picturesque views all along. It deposited us on an outlook very high up on the mountain. We could see a 360 degree view of all that was around us, with numerous mountains similar to the one we were on stretching off into the distant horizon. This was probably the best view we had seen in the whole park, and it is easily reachable for most, taking us only around an hour there and back. The trail features many of the trademarks of the desert, including cacti, sandy boulders, and more cacti, and is very unique for those who are not accustomed to the desert. This trail, similar to practically all the other trails in Zion, is well traveled; it would be beneficial to plan to go early. In fact, some of the hikers we met along the way came as early as 5 AM, so as to catch the breathtaking sunrise.

 There are many places to enjoy the outdoors at Zion National Park, but since we only had two days there (because Grand Canyon was our next stop), I was unable to take full advantage of all the treasures the park has to offer. Even so, the contrasting elements of life and desolation, or a verdant oasis and a rust-hued desert, is something you will not see replicated anywhere else in the southwest.